A Brief Introduction – Becoming Efficient

My name is William Kia’i Barretto. I go by the name Kia’i (Key-ah’ee). I began life with parents who loved me. Parents that gave me room to grow and explore new ideas. Born on Kaua’i and being Hawaiian, I have always been proud of my roots and my culture. I gain comfort from the water and forest.

My father taught me plant names. Which plants i can and can’t eat, and which ones are medicine. Add in hiking and hunting, let’s just say I have always felt at home in the forest. As a child i spent a lot of time at the beach. Body surfing, snorkeling, free diving, spear fishing, or getting food off of the rocks. There is so much that the ocean can provide, if you know where to look.

I played in nature like most kids in Hawaii.

My younger self loved to climb trees and build forts. While hiking, I would run ahead, hide, and set an ambush for my fellow hikers along the trail. Hiking into the mountains and camping with my family, finding springs to drink fresh water, and picking watercress to add to our stew. Some of my fondest memories are in the mountains as a child.

Let’s just say that nature is the most efficient machine I have ever seen.

Spending so much time outside i noticed one reoccurring theme. Nature is efficient. The most efficient things happen naturally. Life doesn’t waist time or energy. Every thing that occurs happens for a reason. Water takes the most direct path down hill. Bees fly directly to and from their destination. And all animals will take the path of least resistance.

Learning to be more efficient.

I made it a point to learn from my discovery of natures efficiency. When doing any redundant task, which happens every day, I take the time to reflect on how it could be done smoother. I ask myself a few questions. What were the key challenges or slowdowns that existed? Could i do things a different way to get to the same outcome? Or, what would a perfect scenario look like? I try to flow like water. If I hit a boulder, I can simply go around it and follow the easiest course. Never satisfied, I edge closer and closer to maximum efficiency daily.

Enter computing. Where have you been my whole life.

My father, and grandfather, has always worked with computers. My father used databases and spreadsheets back when the main operating system was still MS-DOS. Lucky for me, I got access to computers at an early age. I naturally learned the basics. Soon i was able install and play the games that I wanted.

My interest grew in computing as i watched my father create programs and describe the process he takes. I created my first website in html by age 8. This site was used to house information and cheat codes for the various games that i played at the time. By, age 9 computer consulting skills came naturally as my mother would get stuck in simple computing tasks.

Around that time, I also started learning to program in BASIC. In high school, I made games and helpful math programs on the TI-86 graphing calculator. I started to realize how computing could change the way i approach the world to become more efficient and free up my time.

The realization of how much time small programs can save.

It wasn’t until in was in college that i realized the power of programming. I took formal programming classes from Southern Oregon University receiving my Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science. My drive and education landed me in a job at Lithia Motors at their head quarters in Medford Oregon. Placed into the automation department. A sub-department of accounting.

I was first tasked to create massive normalization tables. Lists to compile all the various ways sales associates entered the data. From there we created a giant database to standardize the data from across their these accounting systems.

Automation can give back your time.

As my skills grew, i began creating macros in Visual Basic for Applications or VBA. These macros ran on Excel spreadsheets to automate the cleaning, formatting, auditing, or even sending of data. After a few projects I began creating whole programs to track their reimbursements for all travel expenses company wide. For the first time, they could get live reports and import employee reimbursement forms directly into their system. This program allowed for a small travel reimbursement department to track all travel expenses company wide and find outlier employees who spent too much on a particular trip.

Word traveled fast that my automated skills save time. One day an accountant came upstairs and asked me if i could help her when i got a free moment. She described a weekly process that took her all day on Fridays to complete. She had to compile and summarize banking documents from several states and dealerships. Apply a set of rules. Format each document to generate an appealing report for the general managers of each department. Finally, email each GM the appropriate report.

I was able to create a system where the accountant provided my excel program the data she collected and hit a button. The program generated a report for each department. Her next obligation was to approve the reports and hit a final button which sent out each report to its appropriate general manager.

The Accountant was thrilled with the relief of time. Needless to say, whenever i had some auditing work to complete a new program, i would send it her way. Computer are tools which save us time. This means, when you have a task that is repetitive, it should be automated.

Artificial intelligence can speed things up even more

Artificial intelligence is making a computer do the work of a human. Making decisions, following a flowchart style of logic to accomplish a task.

ADP was the main accounting system used at that time. We would print massive reports from a command line based accounting system. These reports would be hundreds of pages on line printers. Using VBA, we would access ADP, pull up a report, and print it to a very large text file. We could then break down the file and strip the data, clean it, and put it into our main data set for unified reports.

Live reports in real time

Because of these improvements, generalized reporting and real time information was finally available. This was a massive time savings. In the past, reports were often obsolete by the time they got into the hands of the person who requested them. Hundreds of hours are saved no longer having to gathering and summarize the data from over 104 stores by hand. Live reports are generated instantly.

And now, to apply it to another industry.

As much as i enjoyed being in a small team of software developers, I wanted more. I looked around at my corporate workplace. Not many of my cohorts were athletic, vibrant, or full of ambition. I didn’t want to turn into a soulless figure behind a desk.

About that time, a friend of mine called me over the phone and told me of a contracting position. He described working for Direct TV as an installer. He told me how much money he was making, it was double my income, and said that they needed more installers. “We get paid by the job and do about two to three jobs a day”, he says over the phone. “I bet i can do three to five”, I told myself.

Hard work always pays off.

After a short time of learning the ropes, I became the top performer. A few months latter I was promoted to site manager. Suddenly, I had to manage contractors, equipment, and jobs. When I got the keys handed to me, it was a mess. Paper everywhere, everything was written down, then called in to a main office in California.

It would take me 12 to 14 hours a day to keep up with my contractors, give out and maintain inventory, track the jobs that were completed, reporting everything to the main office, deal with customer calls and issues, and finally building the routes for my contractors to do it all again the next day.

Wait. Smart work always pays off.

14 hours a day! I wrote everything down. What is expected of me at a daily, weekly, or monthly level? This list was vital. It created a road map to what parts of my day could be automated, or at least, become more efficient.

All of my records became excel spreadsheets. Instead of writing down serial and model numbers by hand, a USB scanner could rapidly scan inventory. Route updates, jobs, and inventory were emailed and called in to verify the receipt of the report. I reduced my time input requirement to about 6 to 8 hours a day depending on if I needed to pick up equipment or not. It was a reality, better data management brought my time requirements down to where i felt comfortable.

Back to Hawai’i.

All good things change, My nephew, was born. I wanted to be closer so i could visit for a weekend. It was another fateful phone call. A friend from college, He wanted me to take help manage their technical development at Tom Barefoot’s Tours.

Everyone needs to manage their data better.

Their website was built with static html. This meant that it was difficult to maintain and prone to error due to the amount of records needed to be changed. We needed a program to unify all of their data saving time and increasing accuracy on their website.

Product Guard

I created a program, Product Guard, to track vendors, products, categories, rates, departure locations, comments, informational pages, keywords, and display it to a website. Custom tools that could be accessed from anywhere. It was the beginning of my thinking in such a way.

Task Guard

It was some time later we lost our sales floor manager. Keeping track of the agents delegating contacts from clients had always been a challenge. A solution was born out of need. I then created a task management system, Task Guard. A system that would track tasks of all kinds. Customer leads, question forms, call backs, even voicemails were turned into tasks. Task Guard would distribute tasks to qualified teammates. Reports and charts help the sales manager track and maintain team performance.

Job Guard

I have since worked on side projects like Job Guard. A tool that tracks all job duties being performed on various building sites to calculate labor expenses. The tool tracks labor hours and what job duties they accomplished during that time. To ensure that employment guidelines are met, Job Guard also flags employees for overtime as clock hours are entered. At the end of each week a simple payroll report can be generated and handed to their HR department. As far as reporting goes, reports on labor expenses by duty, job, or building can be produced for any date range specified.

Security Event Guard

Another project came about from a security camera installer. I build a tool to track various network devices, operating manuals, and credentials across multiple client sites. Network patch panels and which equipment are connected have always been a challenge to track prior to the deployment of the system.

Conclusion

Every business can benefit from custom systems or simple data management efficiencies. I have never hit a problem that was unsolvable. By continually evaluating our business processes, we save on the largest cost of all, labor.